Michael Conforto stepped into the batter’s box against the Marlins on Sunday night at Citi Field, a box filled with an opportunity at a time of uncertainty.
In the Mets’ sixth, he took advantage, sending up a 430-foot solo rocket that carried a loud statement along for the ride to give the Mets a 5-2 lead.
Last April, Conforto was coming off his solid second-half debut in the majors with the Mets, complete with two homers in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series against the Royals. He came out swinging again, taking a .365 average, four homers and 18 RBIs into May. Then he lost his way and landed in Las Vegas — twice.
Now the 24-year-old lefthanded hitter’s role is pinch hitter and occasional starter when someone gets rested.
Juan Lagares strained an oblique in spring training, allowing Conforto to remain because he could back up in center as well as in left and right. The Mets, though, will need a roster spot this week if Lagares is ready to return. Conforto still is a candidate to be sent back to Triple-A so he can get steady at-bats.
“I try not to think about all that stuff I can’t control,” he said. “That’s kind of been the theme throughout the offseason, throughout this year. Just focus on what I can control, and that’s going out there, doing my job and being ready when my name is called.”
In spring training, Conforto made it difficult for the Mets to send him down even though the outfield was filled. He displayed a flatter swing and batted .300 in 60 Grapefruit League at-bats.
Terry Collins gave him his first start of the regular season Sunday night. Collins rested Curtis Granderson and inserted Conforto in center.
“He knows that, ‘Hey, look, this is my chance to show them that I belong here and I should stay here,’ ” Collins said before the game.
After drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the first and flying out to left in the fourth, Conforto showed them, blasting a pitch from Edinson Volquez to the seats in front of the Shea Bridge beyond the bullpens in right-center.
“It was just a fastball out over the plate, and I was ready for it,” Conforto said.
The 2014 first-round pick batted .270 in 2015. But the sequel ended at .220, including .104 against lefties, although Conforto ultimately left Vegas at .422.
“He’s aware that he’s the future,” Collins said. “We’re aware that he’s the future. We are certainly concerned that he’s not going to get the at-bats that you’d like him to have. But I just think he’s a big piece of this team.”